Monday, February 7, 2011

Why is Caltrans encouraging distracted driving?

Am I the only one who's been noticing these signs around lately?

It seems like every time Caltrans has nothing better to throw up on its digital message boards, this is what appears. I admit this isn't, strictly speaking, a pedestrian issue -- hopefully none of you are spending much time walking along the freeway. But still, it disturbs me that Caltrans thinks it is a good idea to prod drivers into hopping on their cell phones mid-commute. Sure they could dial using their bluetooth devices...but as we all know, just because your hands are free doesn't mean your brain is.

I do understand that the idea behind the 511 system is to make more efficient use of our roadways by keeping drivers well informed about traffic conditions, and to some extent I applaud our transportation officials for trying to improve congestion without building more roads.


This message board demonstrates the subtle way that we (or at least, the people in charge of highway signs) favor efficiency over safety in transportation. Doesn't it seem a little odd that the Secretary of Transportation devotes loads of publicity to the dangers of distracted driving, while at the same time every few miles on the freeway we have signs encouraging us to get on the phone in the name of reducing traffic? So in other words, we would really, really like you to stop gabbing on your cell phone while driving because it's super dangerous--unless of course talking on your phone can help get our freeways moving, in which case by all means put your life and the lives of those around you at risk.

I'm not saying that all intelligent transportation systems are a bad idea, because more efficient traffic movement means less incentive to ditch sidewalks for travel lanes. But we need to be very careful about where we place our priorities. Sure it's great to have less congestion, but at the expense of people's lives? I don't think so.


  1. What state is that in, is Caltrans in California only? It would be counterproductive for Caltrans to encourage drivers to call when it's illegal to use a handheld. Bluetooth is legal but still distracting.

  2. Yes, Caltrans is the CA Dept. of Transportation. And while it might be legal, it's still not safe to drive while using your Bluetooth...